By Karen Buck
THE recent announcement that a world-class fertility clinic in Denmark will bulk bill has been met with a sigh of relief for patients who previously faced large upfront costs.
While some out of pocket expenses were recouped through Medicare or private health insurance, it was nevertheless a daunting out-of-pocket obstacle for many, clinic scientific director and embryologist at Fertility Great Southern, Dr Stephen Junk said. “We’ve switched to bulk billing because by and large people in the country don’t have as much money as those in metropolitan areas or they can’t pay as easily,” he said.
“Now there’s no upfront cost other than a small administration fee for nursing.” Dr Junk said despite the fact many people in the Great Southern didn’t know of the world-class facility on their doorstep, more than 1000 patients had sought treatment in the five years since the clinic opened. The result had seen hundreds of babies delivered to Great Southern families.
The Denmark clinic is the only such facility in Western Australia outside the metropolitan area and it provides all the same treatment on offer worldwide, other than the genetic testing of embryos. Around 50 per cent of couples will have a male or female infertility issue and the clinic offers assistance in overcoming the problem either via a patient’s own genetic material, or through donor sperm and donor egg services.
With about five per cent of babies resulting from donated material, screening of potential donors is paramount, Dr Junk explained. The clinic draws sperm donations from throughout the Great Southern and puts potential donors through a strict regime of testing and screening before they are accepted. “We screen very rigorously – there are lots of blood tests, test for a lot of genetic anomalies, as well as infectious diseases and obviously we test to ensure the sperm is decent,” he said.
The clinic does not advertise for donors and the men who offer their sperm were usually just ‘amazingly’ giving people. “They’re not unlike blood donors. These men donate not because it’s a strange thing to do or anything like that,” he said.
“They’re not even necessarily thinking it’s about giving a baby to someone, or helping someone to become parents, but more just to give something to make someone happy.”
In contrast, women offering to donate eggs usually came from within the infertile woman’s family or friendship
group. It was often difficult for an infertile woman to approach someone to ask whether they would consider donating their eggs and anonymous donations were rare. “The concern can be whether that person would accept and whether it would change the family balance,” he said.
“It’s usually a family member, a younger sister or a cousin, or a really good family friend.” Whether the treatment is to be done using the client’s own genetic material or via donor material, potential issues are thoroughly canvassed in a mandatory six month counselling process prior to any go-ahead. “All patients go through extensive counselling with an independent psychologist who is an expert in this field to ensure everyone is fully aware of what they’re doing and they understand all the issues,” he said. “At the end of six months if people are still on the same page and still happy with the situation, then we can go ahead with treatment.”